Shades of Black, by Sandra and Myles Pinckney
With twins that some have mistaken for “black and white,” and an older daughter whose complexion is slightly lighter than her sister’s, I need this book. It reminds my kids that our family looks like many black families. Shades of Black has simple text that complements the striking, full-color photographs of children of a wide variety of skin tones and hair textures. I especially appreciate the way authors Sandra and Myles Pinckney compare the spectrum of skin tones to yummy things like "gingery cookies," "brassy yellow popcorn" and "midnight blue licorice sticks." Reading this book to my brood reminds me of the wonders that exist within the Diaspora of African DNA. But more importantly, it makes me hopeful that despite the color-conscious world we live in, every child of African descent may grow up to see themselves as beautiful and unique as they truly are.
Girls Hold Up this World by Jada Pinkett Smith
With verses such as, "We are sisters of this Earth/ members of one powerful tribe./ Every color, age, and size / we're united by beauty inside," Jada Pinkett Smith empowers little girls and the grown-ups who love them with words of affirmation and reinforcement. During a period when she was disappointed that she couldn’t run as fast as the boys in her nursery school class, my oldest daughter, Jasmin, took comfort in the beautiful color photos of Pinkett-Smith, her daughter, Willow, and a diverse group of females of all ages. Now an active second-grader, Jasmin knows that gender is not a hindrance and is confident enough to race any child to the finish line. I’m not saying that I have a book to thank for that, but in a world where girls need as much positive affirmation as they can get, I am grateful that Pinkett-Smith’s Girls Hold Up This World speaks truth to girl power.
Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang
From its very first illustration, Molly Bang’s Ten, Nine, Eight captured my heart with its depiction of the bond between parent and child as the countdown to bedtime takes place. Starting with an adorable toddler being swept into her daddy’s arms and ending with him tucking her in for the night, this counting book enraptures the reader with sweetness. And somehow it manages to do so while remaining sincere. My children love counting down with the story’s round-faced protagonist as she checks in with all of her toys and various “comfort items” in her room before finally saying goodnight. I’d hoped that a participatory reading book about bedtime would actually make my kids want to go to sleep. So far, however, their requests for second kisses and glasses of water continue.
The Lord’s Prayer by Tim Ladwig
The other night at bedtime, while saying the Lord’s Prayer, my son asked me if “daily bread” meant he could have a sandwich. I’m hoping that the text of this special Biblical prayer will help explain things a little better. Featuring the familiar words accompanied by exceptional paintings depicting a young girl and her father befriending an elderly neighbor, the tale is rendered with clarity and simplicity without being overbearing. Hopefully, when presented in a new light, my son will understand that yes, the food we eat each day is indeed a blessing. But no, Mommy is not going downstairs to make a PB&J at 8:45 p.m. God loves you. Now go to sleep.
Click, Clack, Moo by Doreen Cronin
Now, before you start wondering, “What is a book about animals doing in here?” just hear me out. Civil rights leaders would be impressed by this Caldecott Award-winning book—a favorite of all three of my children—that offers a lesson in peaceful protest. When Farmer Brown’s cows realize they’re being taken for granted, they decide to organize. After hijacking an old typewriter, they leave a curt note on the barn door letting their owner know that they’re far from happy with the way things are going down. Much to Brown's dismay, his articulate cows go on strike, and he is forced to make amends. With the help of an impartial duck, the striking cows and Farmer Brown reach a peaceful compromise that would make Martin Luther King Jr. proud. My kids can’t stop giggling whenever I read this book and neither can I. Even though words like “ultimatum” might throw younger listeners for a loop, the bovine hard-headedness in Click, Clack, Moo will capture (and hold) little listeners’ attention from start to finish. Who could ask for more than that?
Meera Bowman-Johnson is a regular contributor toThe Root.